At the Elmbridge Borough Council meeting on Wednesday 24 February 2021, The Leader, Councillor Stuart Selleck, delivered the below budget update:
"Madam Mayor, when I stood before you in the Council Chamber a year ago to present, this Administration’s Budget for this year, none of us could have envisaged what was about to unfold. In twelve months, the world has changed. Tragically, millions of people have died, and billions have had their lives changed forever, as the Covid pandemic has ravaged the entire planet.
"Never before has there been so much pressure on our public services, obviously the NHS, to come together to combat this dreaded disease. Local Government across the whole country has stepped up to the plate. Councils have, and continue to, provide huge support to our residents and have delivered on Government policy and initiatives to help the NHS, the homeless, and the most vulnerable in our society.
"I am very proud to say that Elmbridge Borough Council has been at the forefront of the delivery of these services, particularly through our community support, customer service, housing and all our street-based and countryside teams, as well as supporting businesses through the Government Grant Scheme, by our Finance staff.
"I would like to highlight a few major achievements with a few facts, Madam Mayor:
- we have delivered 61,500 meals on wheels, so far;
- we've housed 33 rough sleepers in settled accommodation;
- we've had over 5,000 calls to shielded residents and over 35,000 calls to vulnerable residents;
- we've delivered over 4,300 business grants totalling over £32 million to the businesses and we've been the leaders in Surrey for doing this;
- we've had over 4,500 customer interactions per week; and
- we’ve had nearly 100,000 web page visits.
"I raise a tribute to our officers that our services have continued throughout this year.
"Madam Mayor, once again, I am proud to acknowledge the unstinting work of all our staff in, not only their flexibility and being adaptable in supporting the most vulnerable, but also ensuring that other key services, such as, Waste Collection, Planning and the Democratic Governance has continued throughout the year with no disruption to the services. Every person, from the Chief Executive and CMB downwards, should be proud of how they have performed in the most challenging of circumstances. They are true public servants. On behalf of this Administration and the Council – Thank you!
"Madam Mayor, one must not forget that, apart from tackling the pandemic, there have been many issues that have had to be addressed. From Devolution to the Local Plan and Government changes to planning policies, affordable housing delivery and homelessness, River Thames flood alleviation scheme, and of course, the tremendous costs of COVID, which has decimated our finances. The commitment of our Members and our residents has been exemplary throughout. I think it right and proper to acknowledge the dedication of my Cabinet colleagues who have worked tirelessly with officers to ensure the delivery of our services.
"Turning to the Budget recommendations which Councillor Sadler will present later in the meeting, I wish to make a few comments. The numbers do not lie; the cost of the COVID pandemic to this Council has been around £9 million this year. This is a mixture of loss of income and additional costs. That represents close to half our annual controllable budget and is an unprecedented and unplanned shock to our financial sustainability. The Secretary of State, very early in the lockdown, assured councils “to do whatever it takes” to support their communities and that the Government would meet the costs.
"Madam Mayor, as we now know, regrettably this is not the case. Our current estimates show that we are likely to receive only about 50% of the costs of the additional COVID impact for this year, despite representations to our MP. I was looking for more, very much more, from the Government, but sadly we are now faced with having to square the circle locally. The burden falls on us and, most regrettably, on our council taxpayers.
"I have been up front with this Council and Elmbridge residents, that you don’t make savings in a lean organisation, without having to face real and often painful decisions.
"This Administration has not shied away from making those tough decisions so that our financial position can be rebuilt over the coming few years. I would contend that any prudent administration running this Authority, would be compelled to bring forward the same, or very similar, increases in fees and charges tonight to ensure that this Council remains solvent in the longer term.
"We have started the process of rebuilding our finances and much credit should go to Councillor Sadler, and all the Council’s Finance Team in producing a balanced budget for the forthcoming Year.
"It is disappointing to note, that certain Members in the Chamber continue to try to find fault in everything that this Administration has achieved in these most challenging times.
"The remaining Members and, particularly our officers, should be proud of how, as a Council, we have responded as we look, forward to a successful vaccination programme and a return to a more normal life.
"Madam Mayor, it is at times like these when, as Members, we have to face the really difficult decisions on behalf of our constituents. This is when we see very clearly where the public interest lies.
"This must not be a time for personal opportunism or political positioning. This is a time when we have to come together, cross-party, to protect our communities and make those tough decisions in our collective longer-term interests.
"There are no votes to be gained by trying to diminish sincere efforts. There is no political advantage to be taken by exploiting the ravages of the pandemic on council finances.
"That is why, tonight, I hope there will be cross-party support for the agenda before us. Unfortunately, our financial options are extremely limited, but it is perfectly clear that as elected representatives we must all do the right thing for Elmbridge. Thank you."
At the same meeting the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Councillor Chris Sadler, made the following remarks as an introduction to the Budget:
"Thank you, Madam Mayor. The total of items that surround the budget seems to have grown exponentially and the key issues really are the setting of our Council Tax where the recommendation is that the net precept requirements for 2021 will be set at £231.30 per Band ‘D’ dwelling, which is an increase of £5 per annum. That’s the maximum that we are allowed to increase Council Tax by, without having recourse to referendum, which would be a very expensive way of managing our business.
"I understand that virtually all, apart from one of the other Surrey Boroughs and Districts, has taken the same approach. A couple of them have actually increased their Council Tax for Band D by £4.95 rather than £5, but yet the message is appropriate.
"The other key area is recommendation (g) which relates to the pay award with the recommendation that a pay freeze be applied for 2021/22 for employees on the Council's Local Pay scheme, with the exception of a pay award of £250 pounds or 1%, whichever is greater, for employees up the scale points 28. That equates to £30,212 per annum, so effectively we are giving slightly above inflation pay awards to the lower paid, roughly 50% of our staff, and so I think that probably falls somewhere in the middle of what other authorities are planning as well, and certainly I understand that a couple of them are proposing absolute pay freezes across the board so we think what is being proposed is sensible and fair.
"In respect of recommendation (k), because of the inability to recover the full amount of charges and the need to go in to Reserves, we will reduce the general fund balance to £3 million pounds from £4 million as at the first April 2021.
"The only other thing that I want to comment on is recommendation (q) where we seem to have a slight gremlin in the figures in the first line where it reads 67,986 ( Band D equivalent properties on the Council Tax base) that should be 64,518 and then 3,468 is correct but in the third line where it reads 64,518 that should be 61,050.
"I commend this budget to Members and if there are any questions, I will be more than pleased to try to answer them. Thank you."